Kawartha Komets: Local club makes hockey for all a reality

Sports Advocate

By Lindsay Advocate

Kawartha Komets offers individuals with physical, emotional and/or neurodevelopmental challenges the opportunity to play hockey at the skill level and capacity that best suits them.

By Amanda Tayles

Sport often brings with it a significant amount of equipment, rules, practices and traditions. For many, this can be confusing and overwhelming, but for some it can be so fraught with barriers that playing just does not seem feasible. The Kawartha Komets organization, under the stewardship of Carol Fisher, recognized that hockey is a sport that people with physical, emotional and/or neurodevelopmental challenges may want to play but for a variety of reasons isn’t possible in traditional leagues. And so, in 2009, the Kawartha Komets Special Needs Hockey Program was launched, supporting individuals age eight to 65 to enjoy the game at the skill level and capacity that best suits them.

Komets Vice Chair, Josh McIlmoyle, was searching for athletic programming for his son Rohen who is autistic, when they lived in BC and came up short. Upon returning to his hometown of Peterborough, he was made aware of the Komets through a parent community engaging in similar style programming for baseball (Challenger Baseball). Once he reached out, he was quickly put on the ice as a volunteer coach and subsequently joined the board to assist with grant writing. Programs such as the Komets, a registered charitable organization, require significant financial support to ensure participation by improving accessibility.

For the 2023-24 season there are three teams comprised of 48 players who are tiered not by age, rather based on an individual’s skill, level of interest or willingness, and ability. It’s still hockey, so the fundamentals remain the focus. There are practices, home and away games against other inclusive teams from areas such as Ajax, Innisfil, and Newmarket, and an annual Friendship Tournament.

But it is the frequency, at just once a week, and expectations that are modified. The program will meet the player where they’re at, and that can fluctuate. “Some days a player may just want to skate and shoot pucks at the boards, and that’s OK,” McIlmoyle says. Amanda King’s son Ben joined the program this year, after trying minor hockey for a few seasons and finding it to be too much for him due to the structure, expectations, and even sounds. “Ben likes hockey but getting to the rink was such a fight. Now he’s super excited to go.”  His sister Sarah sees the difference as “it’s less intense and less physical, so it’s good for him.”

As a parent who loves the sport and grew up playing, McIlmoyle sees it as an opportunity to be on the ice with Rohen, to expose him and the family to new friendships. “He enjoys skating and is trying to understand if hockey is his sport, but the beauty of it is he is deciding how much he wants to put in”.  Meeting a player where they’re at in a safe, inclusive environment is the objective, as the Komets will find a way for players to play.

Registration is always open, and players are welcomed to check out kawarthakomets.com for more information. Donations from individuals and organizations to support the program are welcomed, as are volunteers.

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